Determined to Declutter (or: The Stuff That Matters)

Posted: 4 March 2014

Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it's comfortable.
Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it’s comfortable.

“Stuff is everything” – Malcolm Lee Bradford.  

It wasn’t until we moved house last year that Bradscribe realised how much stuff had amassed after a whole decade living and working in Southeast Asia. The wife groaned, not hesitating to admit that it would bring great pleasure to set it all alight.

Years to build – seconds to burn…  

Even the removal men complained about the sheer weight of my stuff. Typical, lesser mortals such as these do not comprehend or appreciate the value of our stuff. Stuff is powerful; stuff is relentless. It can gather and multiply unexpectedly, like an expanding and amorphous malevolent thing from a sci-fi/horror B-movie.

Naturally, those of you writers like me who revel in research will understand that when we collect our sources in various forms, it causes a seemingly insurmountable amount of stuff to just build up at an alarming rate.

No need to fret about your stuff on your own, my friend.

Determined to conquer the curse of my clutter, it was tackled systematically, so gradually the volume of stuff has been significantly reduced. Too good to be true? Not at all; if my stuff can be controlled, so can yours! Read on…

My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.
My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.

“Every time I have moved house, those first few days  – when the space is empty… are intoxicating. But… the clutter returns with all the vigour of a virulent strain of mould” – Emma Beddington.   

Of all the most incredible remarks this blogger has ever heard is: “Why do you have so much stuff?”

Yes, my jaw hit the floor when that preposterous statement was uttered. Honestly, how can anyone begin to explain this question, let alone answer it?

Everyone has stuff: such is the rich tapestry of life, different people have different types of stuff. After all, the only reason we buy/rent houses is so that we can have somewhere safe and spacious to store our stuff. When we go out, we usually end up buying more stuff. When we visit friends’ storage areas homes, we judge their stuff; and the only reason we go on vacation is, invariably, to accumulate more stuff… isn’t it? This seems to be quite obvious.

However, there comes a time when we all have to step back (if there is room amongst all that stuff) and assess how to reduce some of it. For starters, there is never enough time to read everything we have; realistically, if you have not looked at a certain item in the last four years, then you probably never will. In other words, it wasn’t that inportant; discard it pronto.

This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.
This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” – Steven Wright.  

Looking for answers on how to manage your stuff? This blogger can help.

The moment when Bradscribe noticed the sheer stuff overload came when he was annoyed to find… that nothing could be found. The most satisfying strategy to take was to halve the number of book projects in progress. Wherever possible, notes and papers no longer relevant could be discarded; some data had taken ages and lots of time and energy to acquire, so it was agonising to let go… but let go you must. Be strict.        

Don’t abandon your work for a day endeavouring to attack all those piles and pillars, mountains and mounds of stuff. Believe me: you will get nowhere; after hours of sorting, sifting and scrutinizing stuff, nothing will look like it’s been sorted out! Most importantly, the office will certainly end up in a messier state than when you started!  

But do not fret, Dear Reader (and Fellow Writer/Researcher), here is a handy tip on how you can declutter effectively:

Just take one hour a day (two if need be) to deal with a little bit of stuff at a time. Select a pile: deliberately sift through the tatty yellowed morsels at the bottom of it; chances are you will find items you thought were lost/forgotten forever. Stay sane. Enjoy the clear-out in gradual stages…

Every little helps.

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It’s Only a Movie

Posted: 21 February 2014

Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?
Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?

“Film-makers have a great responsibility. How they present the past is how it gets remembered” – Kate Williams.

Movies cannot be treated as historical records; no matter how much attention to period detail goes into a feature film, as a seasoned historian myself, it should be my duty to point out those glaring discrepancies that litter some epic movies, not just lie back, enjoy a fantastical dramatisation and let blissful miscomprehension, or downright ignorance, of actual past events prevail.

This year, with a slew of big historical movies nominated for Oscars, it becomes imperative that a higher standard of care and attention should be put into such productions.

Yet some directors believe they still have every right to change – even distort – historical facts to provide a faster, leaner – dare one say it – more awesome spectacle. Should they be permitted to do so? 

Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians
Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians

“Creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts in historical fiction” – Allen Ward.   

Here are a couple of examples most relevant to this post. They are fine, classic bodies of work, but when analysed from a historical perspective, they flounder miserably.

One notorious example is Gladiator (2000), which won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but none, it seems, for historical accuracy. Bradscribe hates to say this (as it’s one of his faves), but the collection of inaccuracies on show here are… legion.  

Despite the vow of the renowned director: Ridley Scott to uphold high standards of historical research throughout, one advisor resigned and another requested to go unmentioned in the credits because those standards were simply not met.

Such extensive use of ballistae and catapults in the opening battle would not have been used in a forest-setting; both Roman and Germanian costumes are extremely questionable; stirrups were never used by the Roman cavalry despite being on show here… and so on. 

There is no way one can link this celluloid Commodus to the real-life emperor (hey Joaquin, where’s your beard?); he certainly did not commit patricide, and he lasted 12 years before being assassinated, not 3 hours. And the factual errors which beset the character of Marcus Aurelius are compounded by the inexplicable casting.

Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies
Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies

“I didn’t think they had guns then… in the days of Kirk Douglas” – Bunny Warren.

To show that this is not just a problem of modern cinema, enter: The Vikings (1958). Kirk Douglas! Tony Curtis! Ernest Borgnine! How could it possibly go wrong? Well, on several different counts in actual fact.

Kirk Douglas looks fab, yet anything but a Viking. No matter how big a star, if there’s no beard, there’s no credibility. He wears such a cool helmet but – let’s be honest – it was more a product of Hollywood imagination rather than Norse craftsmanship.   

One of the best scenes in the film is also one of its most annoying. The Viking siege of the castle is theoretically absurd; castles were not built until after the Norman Conquest, by which time Norsemens’ raids on the English coast had long since finished. After all the excitement, the drama, not to mention that stirring music score, no one can escape the fact that this whole charade centres around two immigrant boys from the Lower East Side gallivanting around in fancy dress…

Bradscribe will always love this film, but then again, it will always wrestle with his academic sensibilities.  

In conclusion then, movies should not be used as the source material for history essays. These movies can inspire a greater appreciation for history which a lot of books and uninspiring schoolteachers could never do, but the poor research in some productions suggests that not only a greater awareness of the value of history is needed, but the general attitude towards historical knowledge deserves a thorough revision.

This writer is left bemoaning the fact that instead of nitpicking the factual errors of others’ work, he could be working on such storylines, ready to prove that history in itself produced some stirring and dramatic events, packing more punches than any CGI can muster.

 

Energy Boost

Posted: 17 February 2014

What is it that draws writers to coffee?
What is it that draws writers to coffee?

“Coffee is a language in itself” – Jackie Chan.  

The inspiration for this particular post came (funnily enough) purely by accident – ruminating over what would be the next topic for discussion while the daily mug of coffee sat beside the laptop steaming away…  

This marvellous brewed beverage, using roasted seeds of the genus: “Coffea” just happens to be the second most traded commodity (after oil) – let’s face it: dark liquid makes the world go round. Don’t all writers grab a coffee first thing in the morning to zap away the drowsiness? Just what is it that blends (sorry) creators and coffee?

Some brain chemistry is required here. Possibly the most potent psychoactive stimulant in the known universe, caffeine blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine responsible for that drowsy feeling, while increasing the potency of other excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine, thus heightening alertness, energy and – yes!enhancing the ability to get some work done!  

Wonder how many cups of coffee those scientists downed in order to acquire that data?

Bean there, done that
Bean there, done that

“Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break” – Earl Wilson.  

In the average cuppa there are approximately 200mg of caffeine, and in an average day no more than 600mg (3 cups) should be downed. Whoa, go easy there!

You would think that the humid climate at which this writer chooses to pursue his profession would necessitate the desire for iced coffee, but that’s not the case, especially when sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned cafe. In actual fact, the most common brew in Asia: iced cappuccino offers more sugar and fat than caffeine, so it’s better if you served my drink pipng hot, if you please…

As long as he could remember, the bane of Bradscribe’s existence has been lack of energy, but nowwith a coffee-maker amidst the items in our new abode, my mornings have got off to a bright and proactive start. Moreover, in addition to caffeine, a well-brewed cuppa offers antioxidants. Both of these substances are known to have substantial health benefits and anti-aging qualities. 

Yay, drink up!

This blooger loves Mocha!
This blogger loves Mocha!

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt” – Charles M. Schulz.  

Personally, above all others, Bradscribe loves Mocha – that scintillating mix of espresso, milk, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. If anyone is taking notes, this year sees the tenth anniversary of my passion for Mocha. Not so keen on latte, and wary about downing a dodgy cappuccino (it’s amazing how frequent they can be…), yet traditionally a happy tea-slurper, it’s staggering to think how Mocha could have tantalised my taste buds in this seemingly unexpected manner.

So, what’s the Story of Mocha? Where does it come from?   

The rise of Islam played a pivotal role in the rise of coffee consumption. With alcohol prohibited to Muslims, coffee became a regular staple in Arabia. The first (recorded) instance of coffee drinking comes from the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.  Indeed, the Yemeni town most closely associated with my fave hot beverage is… lo & behold: Mocha.

The Arabic word: “qahwa” became the Turkish: “kahve” but it wasn’t until 1582 when the Dutch name: “koffie” entered the English language under its present form. Out of the numerous tomes on “The History of Coffee” there does not appear to be a “History of Mocha.” It looks like my next writing project has just nudged its way forward…

In this modern age, with the advent of big multi-national brands, coffee is ubiquitous. Whether it be Bangkok, Singapore or even London, you can find this writer sipping a tall, hot Mocha while editing his papers.

Until the next brew Blog, enjoy your coffee, but watch those calories!

 

The Midnight Special

Posted: 12 February 2014.

On with the Nightshift
On with the Nightshift

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day” – Vincent Van Gogh.  

The clock strikes Midnight, and yet Bradscribe is still at his desk hammering the keys on his sturdy laptop. The early hours of the morning have always held a very special appeal.

During those three memorable years at university, studying by day and thinking twice about venturing out to the dangerous city centre at night just hindered my progress, and had to be rectified. When this routine was reversed – thankfully for the better – the rate of productivity miraculously increased. Long after university this habit has joyously continued.

This writer takes pride in being a Night-Owl. Whether in the east or the west, gradually the lights of the other houses in the street go out, leaving me to revel in the solitude. With a purring laptop, some dishevelled notes and the pleasant addition of ambient music, the night becomes a most magical time. 

Sometimes it’s amazing to just slink away from the desk, wander onto the quiet balcony, be fanned by a comforting cool breeze and just gaze at the stars…

Great solace can be attained from nocturnal graft.

The Desktop Companion
The Desktop Companion

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask: ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ and a voice says to me: ‘This is going to take more than one night'” – Charles M. Schulz. 

In countless Q&As, writers state that they prefer to spring to their desk at the crack of dawn and work out a cache of pages before midday, then carry out chores during the afternoon.

In my case though, the exact opposite applies; a replenishing afternoon nap and then my mind will function splendidly after dark. This writer has tried – Good Lord, has he tried! – to conform to this so-called conventional day-time formula, but has struggled to produce decent material; not even a good flow can be worked up before lunch. The trouble with writing during the day is the noise, business that can only be sorted out during daylight hours, and other needless distractions.

Sooty, our cat, likes to be with us wherever we go in the house; in the evening, she prefers to stay in and curl up at the foot of the bed, rather than mingle with the local alley cats. At some point during the early hours, she will wander in, just to spend time with me. Usually she will jump onto the desk and rearrange the papers to use as a pillow; as long as she doesn’t go mental and “file” my papers with her teeth, then she can be quite a lovely companion.

Somewhere in another street, a stray dog starts howling; Sooty sits up and glances anxiously out of the mosquito screen, her tail flailing from side to side. Quickly realising that there is no danger, she settles down to dream once more…

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me

“I’m a night owl… My goal as a writer is more to comfort, than to disturb” – Joni Mitchell.   

The nightshift has become an irresistible part of my life in Southeast Asia. The early hours of any day out here are pleasantly cool (in surprising contrast to the humidity at high noon), and apart from the obstreperous bin-collectors or a speeding nocturnal motorcyclist, the peace to be attained here is really conducive to sometimes lengthy creative sessions.

Being in this particularly captivating part of the world, if you listen carefully at 4am, a monk in a nearby wat (temple) clangs a big bell, calling all his brethren to start their Buddhist routine for the new day.

When the heavens open up and the torrents lash against my office window, it’s always so inspirational. In September & October, the monsoons are fairly frequent, and thunder always invigorates an atmospheric session.

As the roosters over the road start their shrill hollering, heralding the imminent dawn, this writer does feel his inner data bank shutting down…

Time to get some well-earned napping in before lunch, then start the new Blog during the afternoon.

A Matter of Time

Posted: 6 February 2014

Time to travel. Travel in time.
Time to travel.
Travel in time.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst” – William Penn.  

It had to happen sooner or later. Time travel has languished within my imagination ever since my grubby infant mits got hold of science fiction books and comics.

Since the novella: The Time Machine by H G Wells was published in 1895, popularizing the concept of travel in time, a whole cascade of time-twisting tales has hit the shelves. To go back and relive a special time in one’s past, explore an ancient period in world history, or even delve into how things might look in the future present limitless opportunities for fiction.  Moreover, its popularity stems from the fact that a considerable number of people would jump (time leap?) at the chance of immersing themselves in a simpler, less stressful time.    

While Space is three-dimensional, consisting of length, width and height, Time offers the fourth dimension, a variable element which Einstein showed to be relative: moving forward; for the moment (whenever that is!) the ability to go back exists only in the realms of science fiction.

Wrestling frustratedly with such story-lines, fuelled by copious mugs of coffee, Bradscribe has ruminated over the notion that maybe – in time – there will be a device which allows the writer to slow the passing of time, spurring him on to increase the level of his productivity and conquer his deadlines…

“About time something was done about this.”

Time Vortex: go back go forward or just go bananas
Time Vortex:
go back
go forward or just
go bananas

“Leonardo… You remember Mona Lisa? That dreadful woman with no eyebrows who wouldn’t sit still, eh? Your  idea for the helicopter took a bit longer to catch on, but as I say, these things take time” – The Doctor.

For a recent fiction project, the quandary of whether to opt for a sci-fi or historical theme was swiftly settled… by combining the two together. Bradscribe concocted an awesome scenario: what if a select band of scientists had formulated “the system,” whereby (for a hefty price of course) people could “escape” into a time period of their choice. Therein lay the dilemma: the popularity of the virtual reality thus created (based on the most accurate historical knowledge) meant that real society was being severely depleted… For the time being, no more plot details will be dispensed here.

Mind you, this is just my twist on time travel, not a blatant distortion! And the working title? “Euhypnion”…

“…What?” you all cry out, in unison.

In the 2nd century CE, Artemidorus – a diviner from Asia Minor – produced a five-volume treatise: “Oneirocritica” (The Interpretation of Dreams) in which Euhypnion has been described as “a routine dream whereby the mind sorted, processed and computerised the previous day’s events.”   

This aptly represents the weird yet wonderful delights this writer aims to create. Amazing how the study of one discipline: history, can enrich the development of another: writing fiction. So many plot-strands to contemplate, and… (ahem) so little time with which to develop them.

Time is most definitely not on my hands.

By the way, what is the time?

Tom Baker  The 4th Doctor  1974-1981
Tom Baker
The 4th Doctor
1974-1981

“I never read the scripts at all carefully, and never wanted to know what was going on, because I felt that being a benevolent alien that’s the way it should be” – Tom Baker.

It seems inevitable that a Blog on this subject should mention a few words about a certain very British television institution. After all, when viewing my first Dr Who story: “Destiny of the Daleks” with Tom Baker (the best Doctor of course) in 1979, the dip into the bizarre arena of transdimensional engineering became an enjoyable and inspirational Saturday evening ritual for me – and countless other younglings. Something about that absurdly long scarf, or his amusing knack of offering jelly babies to the surliest of adversaries… 

Although the last three regenerations of everyone’s favourite Gallifreyan did not appeal to Bradscribe, it undeniably – and quite rightly – has become a behemoth of modern broadcasting, celebrating its 50th Anniversary only last November.  

You could say that time is running out here, but then again, there always seems to be plenty of it. It’s what you do with it that counts. Will time ever wait for us? How successful will this Blog be?

Only time will tell… 

Brad In The Blogosphere

Brad In The Blogosphere: A successful foray into the exciting medium of blogging.  

photo0764
An empty desk would just suggest an empty mind

“You fail only if you stop writing” Ray Bradbury.

‘Twas inevitable. With the sheer number of papers piling up in my office, the need to experiment with the tantalising array of online media now available has become imperative!

And so, sustained by kebabs and coffee, this writer has plunged in; this is the first post of my WordPress Blog. The title: ‘Bradscribe’ may admittedly sound more obscure than enticing, but this writer did not want to spend (waste?) too much time trying to concoct a clever or cool overall name for these posts! “Scribe” is a title primarily associated with ancient writers, when to produce the written word was regarded by the unitiated as a work of magic – a skill practiced only by an elite few (and ancient things are what drives this writer).

Technology permitting, these forays into the Blogosphere should be posted on a regular basis. Rather than leave my notes – on science (both fact & fiction), but mostly on archaeology & ancient history – to gather dust or get chewed by the cat, they will go through the process of being converted into blogs.

A warm and friendly paperweight, who just happens to love me too
A warm and friendly paperweight, who just happens to love me too

“Tell me & I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me & I learn… By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin.

Preparation for these posts will involve frantic scribbling & typing mostly through the night; ever since University, the dark hours became my favoured – and most productive – time for writing.

So what does this writer have to offer? For one thing, not content with churning out the “same old stuff,” my works of non-fiction have – and will – explore the lesser-known episodes in Asian history, and my historical fiction now incorporates names and incidents accrued through my extensive research.

Bearing in mind the fact that tens of thousands of new blogs are posted on a daily basis, vying to be distinctive, and striving to have something important or relevant to say, this series will proceed (and hopefully progress) by providing updates on my own unique writing projects (both fiction & non-fiction) and feature intriguing perspectives on other issues relevant to writing and publishing.

A soft, sandy beach is all this writer needs to work contentedly
A soft, sandy beach is all this writer needs to work happily

“For me, life is writing. I can do it anywhere. It doesn’t matter where I am. I listen. I write. I live” Maynard James Keenan.

On a different note, you might like to know that…

In a unique position – a writer based on the Gulf of Thailand – various interesting possibilities arise.

These observations will appear in a separate series: “huahinhiker,” lovingly illustrated with photos of the town which has served as my base for five years now.

In the coming weeks…

Here is a list of some forthcoming Bradscribe topics:

  • OMG: LOL & Behold – Trying to cope with some of the stranger changes in the language during the Internet Age.
  • The Midnight Special – Always been a “night owl” rather than an “early bird”; explaining how some of ny best work has been produced at a cooler, quieter (and darker) time.
  • The Weekend Fretaway – How this freelance worker operates outside the usual 9-5 routine, with Saturdays & Sundays having no difference from week days.
  • Inspirational Time – How an early morning – or early evening – stroll does wonders for the creative process.

In the coming days…

… the next blog: “Science Friction,” will concentrate on the ways in which modern CGI has almost eradicated the thrills and wonder which traditional sci-fi so masterfully engineered… and enriched my infant imagination. 

So, finally, may I ask: “Who are you?” It would be great to find out who will be reading these posts; and it will be interesting to see your Comments!

See you earlier,

Brad.